It's been a year of lasts for UConn seniors Napheesa Collier and Katie Lou Samuelson.
They've checked them off a mental list one by one as the season has gone on. Last preseason workout: done. Last 6 a.m. practice: complete.
On Saturday, they'll check off a final experience that marks the beginning of their end at UConn. It will be their last regular season game inside Gampel Pavilion. After four years of playing together in the Huskies uniform, sharing in hardships and successes, and ascending to the top of the program's record books, the end is near for one of UConn's most accomplished duos. They've learned a lot about basketball and about life during their time in Storrs, but there's one thing they'll take away from the experience that's greater than all the rest — their friendship.
"I think it's evident that they have a great, close relationship," associate head coach Chris Dailey said. "They both have that kind of personality [where] they're both fun-loving. They like to joke around a lot, and they've been through the wars together. They depend on each other, and I think it's nice to see. It's fun to see, but when you're coming up on senior night it kind of makes me sad to see that they're not going to be with us that much longer. To watch both of their growth as players is one thing, but their growth as individuals is another thing. You couldn't ask for two more coachable players. [They're] just a joy to have."
Collier and Samuelson's relationship began during their freshman year at UConn with the duo immediately clicking due to their similar personalities and a shared love of reading. With the older players in apartments, Samuelson and Collier spent a majority of their free time together in the dorm.
It was an important time for the duo as they navigated the world of college basketball together and were faced with the difficulties freshman year poses. They adjusted to the expectations of being a member of the UConn women's basketball team and where they fit on a team that would go undefeated and win a national title.
So once they left practice, Samuelson and Collier chose not to talk about basketball. Instead, they found ways to entertain themselves and take their minds off of issues. That included watching movies or propping a laptop up on Collier's bed to learn whatever the newest dance craze was.
"We made sure that we kept ourselves sane during that time and did whatever we could to enjoy being off the court and away from basketball," Samuelson said, "because sometimes your freshman year you feel like everything in the world is just crashing down on you. We really used each other to pick ourselves up and keep ourselves going every day."
As time went on, Collier and Samuelson became even more comfortable around each other, which is when they realized their friendship was going to last. Older players had warned them that all freshmen think they're close with each other but tend to grow apart over the years, but Collier and Samuelson knew they were different. They were able to let loose around each other, tapping into the goofy side of their personalities, and it helped them solidify their bond.
Junior Kyla Irwin, who spends a lot time with Samuelson and Collier, said their slight differences make them great for each other. Collier is a bit more laid back, while Samuelson tends to be more active and on the go.
"They're inseparable," Irwin said. "They can finish each other's sentences all the time, especially during season. That's when it gets crazy because we spend so much time together. They just fit each other really well. I don't think they're opposites, but they complement each other."
Samuelson and Collier don't just complement each other off the court. They've combined for 4,417 career points, and one or both of them currently rank in the top 10 of 13 categories in the program's record book.
Collier is just the fifth Husky to reach 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, and Samuelson is 32 3-pointers away from the most in program history. Both rank in the top eight on the all-time scoring list, with the possibility of both ending their careers in the top five. Samuelson already ranks 4th in the category, behind Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and Tina Charles.
As the records have piled up and the award watch lists have been announced, Samuelson and Collier have been each other's biggest cheerleaders.
I was set up! https://t.co/GfxlRg9Ntg— napheesa collier (@PHEEsespieces) June 18, 2018
"I think you can tell we're true friends because we're really happy for each other's successes," Collier said. "We're genuinely happy when the other [person] does well, and we want that [success] for each other. I think that's just because we have that bond and we've gone through this journey together."
Their journey at UConn will soon come to an end and, while they prefer to live in the moment, they've discussed what life in the WNBA might be like for them. They've joked about trade scenarios where they could end up on the same team, and talked about meeting up after games.
Happy birthday Lou Lou hope today was as entertaining as you are 😘😊💙 pic.twitter.com/CFUnvXpBnl— napheesa collier (@PHEEsespieces) June 13, 2016
The thought of the WNBA and what lies ahead for them is what's helped them avoid thinking about no longer playing together, and it's what will help them look at Senior Day without sadness.
"We're definitely ready and excited that we get the chance to move on and go have this opportunity that not a lot of people get," Samuelson said, "but it'll definitely be bittersweet."
This article is written by Kelli Stacy from The Hartford Courant and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.